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January 2020

Lack of guarding on plant results in injury

Lack of guarding on plant results in injury

WorkSafe Victoria v Heritage Seeds Pty Ltd (2018)

Facts

Heritage Seeds Pty Ltd (Company) is a seed distribution company that coats each of its seeds in a chemical mixture before distribution.

The seeds are coated as they pass through an auger inside a machine. The auger is located behind a door on the machine, and it can be accessed when the machine is in operation.

On 4 April 2017, a Company employee opened the door while the machine was operating and used his hands to attempt to unblock some seeds. His fingers became caught and were crushed in the auger.

Judgment

The Magistrates’ Court found that the Company had failed, so far as reasonably practicable, to eliminate the risk of injury to workers. In particular, the Court found that the Company could have reduced the risk by providing an appropriate guard to the auger, which would have at least prevented access to the machine while it was operating.

Notably, the Company had previously engaged a consultant to conduct a safety audit at the workplace, including an inspection of this machine. The audit failed to identify the machine as a safety risk.

The Company pleaded guilty and, taking into consideration the prior safety audit and the fact that the Company had no prior convictions (in 100 years of operation), the Magistrates’ Court imposed a fine of $25,000.

Lessons

You must take all possible steps to identify and manage safety risks to workers. While these steps could include hiring external consultants to conduct safety audits, this case shows how an external safety audit is not always enough to protect an employer from liability. In particular, you should carefully inspect any high-risk plant and equipment that could pose a serious safety risk to workers.

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